Sensual pleasure is centrally important for different reasons in two South Asian knowledge systems: the secular domain of kāmaśāstra, “the science of sensual pleasure”, and the religious domain of later Tantric Buddhism.Footnote 1 On the one hand, in works dedicated to kāmaśāstra, the pursuit of sensual pleasure for its own sake reigned supreme. Sanskrit-language works such as the third-century Vātsyāyana's Kāmasūtra and later works dating from the early second millennium such as Padmaśrī’s Nāgarasarvasva and Kokkoka's Ratirahasya contain a broad array of aesthetic concerns relevant to the Indian urbane, such as cosmetics, perfume, games, poetry, gardening, courtship, domestic affairs and friendship, but they are best known for their expositions of the 64 erotic arts.Footnote 2 On the other hand, in later Tantric Buddhist works, sensual pleasure was an important tool on the spiritual path not as an end in itself but as a method for transmuting the craving of passionate desire into wisdom-infused bliss endowed with the capacity to eradicate the craving from which it arose. A common tantric analogy for this process is that of an insect born from wood (i.e. desire), who then consumes that wood and transforms it into wisdom. In the words of the first Panchen Lama Lobsang Chökyi Gyeltsen (Blo bzang chos kyi rgyal mtshan, 1570–1662):
For example, even though a wood-born insect is born from wood, it completely consumes the wood. Likewise, by means of lust, great bliss is produced through an initial desirous motivation [followed by] looking, holding hands or embracing, and uniting the two [male and female] organs. When this [great bliss] is produced inseparably at the same time as a cognition realizing emptiness, the [ensuing] primordial wisdom in which bliss and emptiness are inseparable completely consumes the afflictions, ignorance, lust, and so forth.Footnote 3
This alchemical transformation of sensual pleasure into blissful wisdom is not the focus of the rich erotic literature of India, nor did it inspire an indigenous Tibetan tradition of erotic literature.Footnote 4
Nevertheless, we do find traces of the Indian science of sensual pleasure transposed from their cosmopolitan courtly origins into Tibetan Buddhist idiom. One of the most interesting examples is the earliest extant Tibetan-language kāmaśāstra treatise, which was written by the monastic scholar Ju Mipam Jamyang Namgyel Gyatso (’Ju mi pham ’jam dbyangs rnam rgyal rgya mtsho, 1846–1912). Despite the innovative nature of Mipam's Treatise on Passion: Treasure Pleasing the Whole World (’Dod pa'i bstan bcos ’jig rten kun tu dga’ ba'i gter), to date there has not been a single article published that focuses on it and no English translation yet exists.Footnote 5 The reason for this is more than scholarly oversight, prudery over its explicit subject matter, or hesitancy regarding the complexity of its Tibetan language. Rather, scholarly dismissal of Mipam's Treatise on Passion can be attributed to the polemics of a later writer who based his own Treatise on Passion (’Dod pa'i bstan bcos) partly on that of Mipam. The author of this later work was none other than the former monk and iconoclast Gendün Chöpel (Dge ’dun chos ’phel, 1903–51), remembered as the leading Tibetan intellectual of the twentieth century.Footnote 6 Gendün Chöpel's Treatise on Passion gained broad acclaim internationally as well through the publication of an English-language translation by Jeffrey Hopkins.Footnote 7 In his Treatise on Passion, Gendün Chöpel spared any pretence of modesty in comparing his work to that of his predecessor:
In his study of the work, Jeffrey Hopkins concurs with Chöpel's own view of the supremacy of his rendition of the 64 erotic arts. Because Chöpel's work contains more expansive descriptions of the erotic arts that provide more “intimate, vivid, and enticing detail”, Hopkins concludes that “Mi-pam's text is dry by comparison”.Footnote 9 The great bibliographer of Tibetan works E. Gene Smith contributed his own hesitation about Mipam's Treatise on Passion, speculating that he “only worked from dusty Sanskrit originals” whereas Gendün Chopel “was inspired to record firsthand information gained during his extensive travels in India”.Footnote 10 This may be, although Sanskrit originals of kāmaśāstra works would have been scarce in Mipam's nineteenth-century eastern Tibet, and the fact that Mipam was a monastic hierarch does not necessarily indicate whether or not he wrote on this delicate matter from personal experience.Footnote 11 In any case, even if Gendün Chöpel's Treatise on Passion is richly packed with salacious detail, the fact that Gendün Chöpel wrote a Tibetan treatise on the Indian erotic arts while living as an ex-monk in India in 1938 is in many senses less surprising than Ju Mipam's authorship of such a text in eastern Tibet in 1886. In twentieth-century Colonial India, Gendün Chöpel had considerable international exposure to different social mores, religious scriptures, and modern ideas. He had access to a broad array of Indic texts, he lists over 30, as well as diverse interlocutors including English, Indian, Russian and Tibetan friends. He was adept at learning languages, and translated English, Sanskrit and Pali-language works into Tibetan; he also wrote original Tibetan philosophical works, dictionaries, travelogues and medical treatises.Footnote 12 In contrast, Ju Mipam spent his entire life as a monastic scholar in the Tibetan cultural region, primarily in the Dergé (Sde dge) Kingdom in eastern Tibet, where kāmaśāstra works were uncommon. Mipam notes as much in the colophon of his Treatise on Passion, in which he writes that “previously this branch of tantric commentary was little known”.Footnote 13
All this raises a number of questions: why did the indefatigable monastic scholar and meditation master Ju Mipam, who left no trace of ever having a consort of his own, write a Treatise on Passion? What were his literary, social, and/or situational inspirations for this endeavour? What influenced Mipam to present kāmaśāstra, which was originally as unconcerned with the imperatives of celibate monastic Buddhism as it was with tantric transmutations of passion, as a “branch of tantric commentary”? This article proposes preliminary answers to these questions as a beginning point for further research.
An overview of Mipam's life and works
Ju Mipam was by many accounts a luminary among luminaries in the nineteenth-century religious domain of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism; he was “perhaps the greatest polymath Tibet ever produced”.Footnote 14 His father, Gönpo Dargyé (Mgon po dar rgyas), was descended from the Ju (’Ju) clan, and his mother, Singchung (Sring chung), was the daughter of a minister in the Dergé kingdom. Unlike many other prominent Tibetan masters, as a youth Mipam was not regaled as an incarnation of some renowned personage, even though he showed signs in childhood of being a religious prodigy, mastering complex scriptures and beginning to compose his own. At the age of twelve he began his career as a lifelong monk by taking novice vows at Jumohor Sangngak Chöling (’Ju mo hor gsang sngags chos gling), a branch of the Nyingma Monastery Zhechen (Zhe chen). In 1861, during his late teens, a formative experience emerged for Mipam after the invasion of the Dergé Kingdom by Gönpo Namgyel (Mgon po rnam rgyal, 1799–1865) of Nyarong (Nyag rong). Mipam travelled to central Tibet on pilgrimage, during which time he stayed at the Geluk Monstery Ganden (Dga’ ldan) for a short time and learned their traditions. He mastered not only the scriptures of his own Nyingma school but also those of the Geluk, Sakya, and Kagyü schools, contributing to his association with the nineteenth-century rimé (ris med) or “non-biased” outlook, which was characterized by broad education in diverse Buddhist commentarial traditions. Nevertheless, he was a staunch advocate of the Nyingma tradition. Mipam's rise as a pre-eminent monastic scholar and meditation master was aided by the royal patronage bestowed upon him for being the guru of the king of Dergé, Ngawang Jampel Rinchen (Ngag dbang ’jam dpal rin chen, c. 1850–1920), as well as his status as a leading disciple of several of the most esteemed nineteenth-century religious masters. His root guru was Jamyang Khyentsé Wangpo (’Jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse'i dbang po, 1820–92). He also studied with Dzokchen Khenpo Pema Vajra (Rdzogs chen mkhan po pad + ma badz + ra, c. 1807–84), Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Tayé (’Jam mgon kong sprul blo gros mtha’ yas, 1813–99), and Patrül Orgyen Jikmé Chökyi Wangpo (Dpal sprul o rgyan ’jigs med chos kyi dbang po, 1808–87), among others. Together with his masters Khyentsé Wangpo and Kongtrül, Mipam received the title Jamgön (’Jam mgon) for his association with Mañjuśrī, the Buddha of wisdom.Footnote 15
Mipam wrote more than almost any other Tibetan author.Footnote 16 His works span Madhyamaka philosophy, logic, poetics, medicine, astrology, Tantra, politics, divination and much more, forming more than 200 works as listed by the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC) and comprising about 30 volumes in numerous collected works (gsung ’bum).Footnote 17 Within this encyclopaedic range of scholarship, according to Gene Smith, Mipam's greatest contribution to the cultural history of Tibet lies in his commentaries on important Indic Buddhist philosophical treatises.Footnote 18 Hence, the large majority of scholarship on Mipam focuses on his philosophical works, as do translations of Mipam's writings.Footnote 19 As well they should, given that his writings on Madhyamaka and other topics formed the platform for Nyingma monastic education that remains the dominant curriculum of Nyingma Monasteries in Tibet and its diaspora today.Footnote 20 Even so, it is striking how much less attention Mipam's voluminous non-scholastic writings have attracted, a point recently underscored by Bryan Cuevas in his study of Mipam's “Handbook of Tibetan Ritual Magic”.Footnote 21 Mipam's writings indicate more than a cursory knowledge of all ten of the traditional Buddhist “arts and sciences”, including the five major knowledge fields of soteriology (Buddhism), logic, language, medicine, and arts and crafts, as well as the five minor knowledge fields that include poetics, prosody, synonyms, dramaturgy, and astrology and divination.Footnote 22 In particular, Mipam was “almost anthropologically oriented”, to borrow Gene Smith's characterization of his interest in indigenous Tibetan subjects such as mo divination, sorcery, the Gesar epic, and crafts, the latter compiled into a compendium on practical arts (Bzo gnas nyer mkho'i za ma tog) including painting, sculpture, metallurgy, sewing, embroidery, incense-making, carving, ink-making and so forth.Footnote 23 Notably, his non-philosophical interests also extended deeply into Sanskrit literary arts, although he never travelled to India or interacted directly with Indians. This aspect of Mipam's oeuvre has received the least scholarly attention, though it includes his 300-folio Sanskrit–Tibetan dictionary, his equally expansive commentary on Daṇḍin's Kāvyādarśa (Mirror of Poetry), and the subject of my inquiry, his kāmaśāstra work called Treatise on Passion.Footnote 24
Summary of Mipam's Treatise on Passion
Mipam's Treatise on Passion is a thirty-four-page work in Tibetan verse (T.G. Dhongthog edition; 25 folios in the Lama Ngodrup and Sherab Drimey Gsung ’bum edition). He wrote it partly in the most frequent meter used in classical Tibetan verse, a seven-syllable line containing two disyllabic feet followed by one trisyllabic foot, and partly in the second-most frequent classical Tibetan meter, a nine-syllable line containing three disyllabic feet followed by one trisyllabic foot.Footnote 25 The main focus of Mipam's Treatise on Passion is how to arouse passion, beginning with an initial section enumerating the types of yoginīs whose purpose is to “increase the joy of great bliss” (bde chen dga’ ba ’phel). Mipam classes these yoginīs into four categories: the lotus woman (Tib. pad+ma can; Skt. padminī), conch shell woman (Tib. dung can ma; Skt. śaṅkhinī), many-talented womanFootnote 26 (Tib. ri mo can; Skt. citriṇī), and elephant woman (Tib. glang chen ma; Skt. hastinī). This fourfold typology is not a product of the strange imagination of Mipam, but rather these are the four “leading ladies” (Skt. nāyikā) derived from Sanskrit dramaturgy (nāṭyaśāstra), who first appear in the later medieval Sanskrit kāmaśāstra work by Kokkoka titled Ratirahasya.Footnote 27 Also demonstrating influences from later Indian kāmaśāstra works are Mipam's stylized descriptions of the features of each of these four types of yoginī, including information about beauty, body odour, shape of genitalia, voice, hair type, behaviour, and so forth. For example:
Mipam summarizes that, “In short, seeing [these yoginīs] will bring bliss (bde) into your experience. Consorting with them will provide a conducive mentality for channel and wind practices”.Footnote 29 The channel and wind (rtsa rlung) practices Mipam addresses here are yogic practices aimed at loosening obstructions and promoting smooth circulation in the subtle body, a psycho-physical network of channels in which wind propels vital nuclei (Skt. bindu; Tib. thig le) necessary for longevity and spiritual realization. With this aim, Mipam suggests some concoctions for alluring such passion-arousing yoginīs, including ingredients as disparate as peacock feathers, one's own blood and urine, cremation ground ashes, and vulture droppings. When these are compounded properly and rubbed into one's forehead, “By saying, ‘Come here’, whomever looks at this will want [to come] immediately”.Footnote 30 From these potions, we see that Mipam was not only transposing Indic kāmaśāstra materials into Tibetan, but highlighting elements common in Tibetan contexts, such as vultures. Though vultures also appear in Indian magic, they are particularly important in Tibet not only because they consume carrion, but also because they consume human remains in sky burial rituals.Footnote 31
The second section outlines a series of seven elements that arouse a “passionate attitude” (’dod pa'i ’dun pa, kāmacchanda), which incidentally is the same word often translated as “sensual desire” appearing as an obstacle to proper meditation, specifically as the first of five hindrances obstructing mindfulness. Here a desideratum, Mipam exhorts his readers to inspire a “passionate attitude” by means of sidelong glances, laughter, bathing and anointing one's body with saffron, sandalwood and camphor, inspiring the flame of attraction by listening to the clinking sounds of the jewellery of one's lover, listening to her singing, watching her dance while she is behind a curtain, sitting closely together, holding hands, and so on.
This leads Mipam into the third section, his description of the famous 64 erotic arts (sbyor ba'i sgyu rtsal), without which “there is no supreme bliss” (mchog gi bde ba med).Footnote 32 He elaborates, “The sages taught these eight, which are each divided into eight parts, making 64, because those without expertise in the practice of these arts fornicate in the manner of beasts”.Footnote 33 Mipam delineates these eight arts as: 1) embracing (’khyud); 2) kissing (’o byed); 3) scratching (sen mos rtsen); 4) biting (so ’debs); 5) sexual positions (’jug); 6) moaning (sid sgra ’byin); 7) rubbing (nyed); and 8) acting like a man (skyes pa ltar byed pa).Footnote 34 This list of eight is nearly identical to that Gendün Chöpel would articulate three decades later. Both Mipam's and Chöpel's lists closely resemble the list of eight found in the Kāmasūtra itself: embracing, kissing, scratching, biting, sexual positions, moaning, the woman playing the man's part, and oral sex.Footnote 35 It is in relation to this list of eight, and the related eight subsections for each, that Hopkins’ characterization rings the truest: “Gendün Chöpel's descriptions are more expansive, containing titillating detail”.Footnote 36 Mipam's work is considerably more terse, consuming six pages of the 1969 publication or five folio sides of the gsung ’bum edition, though these pages do not exactly make for “dry” reading either.
In describing these eight erotic arts, Mipam's writing closely follows Sanskrit kāmaśāstra works in most instances. For example, his enumeration of types of embraces paraphrases seven of the eight embraces described in both the Kāmasūtra (v. 2.2.6–19) and the Ratirahasya, and the two alternately described embraces are not very different. Mipam's list includes: 1) touching (reg pa can); 2) grasping and piercing (bzung ’bigs pa can); 3) grinding (’dar ba can); 4) biting and pressing (sos ’debs gzir ba can); 5) climbing the creeper vine (’khri shing zhon); 6) picking fruit (shing thog len); 7) that which is like sesame and rice (til ’bras lta bu); and 8) that which is like mixing milk and water (’o chu ltar ’dre). Mipam completes his enumeration of embrace types at eight, whereas both the Kāmasūtra and the Ratirahasya add four additional categories.
At times Mipam's rendition of the 64 erotic arts appears in outline form, without any of the corresponding explanations found in kāmaśāstra works. For example, in a few verse lines he describes the second of the eight erotic arts: “Second, the types of kisses are divided according to location: mouth, neck, breast, armpit, hollow at the base of the spine, nose, cheeks, and female genitalia”.Footnote 37
Mipam's third category about scratching with the nails includes the following eight parts: 1) lightly scratching near the ear, on the breasts, lips, and so forth in order to raise goose bumps, called separation (bral ba); scratching in patterns called 2) half moon (zla phyed); 3) circle (dkyil ’khor); 4) long-line (ri mo ring po); 5) tiger's claw (stag gi sen); 6) peacock's foot (rma bya'i rkang rjes); 7) hare jumping (ri bong ’phyong ba); and 8) lotus petal (ut +pal ’dab ma).Footnote 38 Mipam's enumeration of types of scratching closely matches that of the Kāmasūtra and the Ratirahasya, though the latter is missing the “tiger's claw”.
Mipam's fourth category follows the Kāmasūtra and Ratirahasya quite closely aside from the first item on the list, including the following types of biting: 1) the root (Skt. mūlakaṃ); 2) swollen (shus skrangs pa); 3) lips and teeth (mchu so), also called coral and jewel (bye ru'i nor bu); 4) maṇimālā, or the jewel garland (nor bu'i phreng ba); 5) the dot (thig le can); 6) the dot garland (thig le'i phreng ba); 7) scattered clouds (sprin gyi dum bu); and 8) boar's bite (phag gis rmugs pa).Footnote 39
Mipam's fifth erotic art, sexual positions, matches the Indic materials in name only, whereas most of the content comes from the Kāmasūtra section “[a woman] acting like a man” (v. 2.8.22–29) and appears to be entirely absent from the Ratirahasya. The eight parts that make up Mipam's sexual positions include: 1) churning (srub pa); 2) the dagger (Skt. hu la); 3) grinding down (tsher srub pa); 4) pressing (gzir ldan); 5) blast of wind (nir kha ta)Footnote 40 6) doing it like a sparrow (mchil pa ltar byed); 7) striking and thrusting (rdeg cing bsnun pa); and 8) thrusting like a boar (phag ltar bsnun).Footnote 41
Following this are the eight types of moaning, the sixth erotic art, which Mipam describes along with the seventh erotic art, rubbing. The noises listed add up to more than eight, including crying, moaning, lamenting, uttering various syllables, and uttering sounds of birds such as dove, cuckoo, a black aquatic bird (so bya), bee, swan, and pigeon. As for rubbing, this section gets short shrift in that it does not have a separate list of eight parts.Footnote 42
Mipam's eighth and final section, “[a woman] acting like a man”, includes more detail than the corresponding section in the Ratirahasya and contains positions different from those described in the Kāmasūtra, therefore suggesting a different source. He explains that the following eight postures should be used if the man is fatigued or in order to enhance his passion: 1) pulling (drud pa); 2) pressing (’tshir ba);Footnote 43 3) spinning (bskor ba); 4) spinning with the legs (byin pas bskor ba); 5) the resting one (ngal gso can); 6) flying garudas (khyung lding dag); 7) very stretched out (shin tu brkyang ba); and finally 8) doing it the village way (grong gi bya ba).Footnote 44 The first three of these resemble positions in the Kāmasūtra, but the latter five do not have clear referents to Indic materials known to me.
After Mipam's exposition of the 64 erotic arts, his Treatise shifts in tone and also in meter, switching from seven-syllable lines to nine, and also towards a more esoteric description of the main topic, which is still “methods to increase bliss” (bde ba spel ba'i thabs la brten). This time, however, the focus is on proper timing according to the constellations and the lunar calendar, mantras, and aphrodisiac potions. This section is somewhat awkwardly appended to the preceding sections in that it is listed as “second”Footnote 45 when it seems it should be “fourth” after Mipam's previously numbered topics, which are, first, types of yoginīs, second, elements that arouse a passionate attitude, and third, his description of the 64 erotic arts.
The first part of the “ways to cultivate perfect bliss” (phun tshogs bde ba'i thabs bsgrub pa) involves being in beautiful surroundings conducive to the arts of love – a verdant and fragrant flowering grove with meadows and waterfalls covered by a delightful canopy of thunder clouds with lightening. In this pleasant atmosphere the elements that enhance bliss are bathing and being anointed with musk, camphor, sandalwood and saffron fragrances, being dressed in bejewelled raiment, and listening to harmonious song. Mipam then delineates the astrological times when intercourse is forbidden, including five of the 28 lunar mansions, as well as at dawn and dusk. Mipam's inclusion of astrological considerations in his Treatise on Passion builds on those found in later Indian kāmaśāstra works, such as the doctrine of candrakalā, which is the association of parts of the female body, sometimes marked with mantras, with different phases of the moon's monthly cycle. According to the Nāgarasarvasva, for example, the god of love Kāmadeva moves up the body from the toe to the top of the head over the first 15 days of the lunar month, after which it pervades the entire body for two days and then moves downward back to the toe during the waning days of the month.Footnote 46 We see a remarkably similar description in Mipam's work, though without mention of Kāmadeva, called the “pith instruction for increasing supreme bliss” (bde ba mchog tu spel ba'i man ngag). In this instruction, Mipam associates particular days of the waxing moon cycle with Sanskrit vowels on different parts of the body, starting with the toe and moving up to the lower leg, thigh, uterus, abdomen, heart, hand, throat, cheek, eye, ear, and finally the top of the head, after which unparalleled great bliss pervades the entire body, resulting in robust health, strength and the supreme accomplishment of spiritual realization (dngos grub mchog).Footnote 47
But the majority of this portion of Mipam's text on “ways to cultivate perfect bliss” is dedicated to various potions, sometimes together with mantras, that will arouse bliss. For example:
Mix Hippophae Rhamnoides (star bu), Gymnadennia Orchidis Lindle (dbang lag), and Calcite (cong zhi)
together with milk, drink it, and recite “Ha ri ni sa”.
By this your desire will intensify.Footnote 48
These aphrodisiac compounds become particularly important when those cultivating bliss age. Mipam cautions that:
Nevertheless, all is not lost if the flower of youth has faded, for Mipam details a variety of recipes to enhance the virility of the male:
Ingredients that recur in these potions include an array of aphrodisiac Tibetan medicinal herbs, licorice root, milk, honey, molasses, nutmeg, cinnamon and much more. Reminiscent of the seventh book of the Kāmasūtra on “Erotic esoterica”, Mipam's aphrodisiacs contain some of the same ingredients as their Indian precursors such as honey, butter and licorice, but for the most part they make use of Tibetan flora and fauna. Amid this panoply of formulae, he makes no mention of substances that enhance the sexual capacity or experience of the female.
The last section of Mipam's Treatise on Passion is dedicated first briefly to “ways of inciting desire (chags pa)” starting with types of flirtatious glances and progressing to touches and kisses, followed by a long section describing different sexual positions. This latter section is punctuated by a return to the same seven-syllable meter with which Mipam began. He lists 25 different sexual positions including “the arising of bliss” (bde ba ’byung ba), half-moon (zla ba phyed pa), honeycomb (bung ba'i dra ba can), the tortoise embrace (rus sbal bcing ba), and palanquin (do li am ’khyogs).Footnote 55 Although these do not appear to correlate with positions found in Indian kāmaśāstra works, they have a likely tantric source, which I will describe in the following section. Mipam then describes 16 additional sexual positions correlating to the 16 offering goddesses, consisting of four positions for each of four categories of beings: gods, demigods, humans and animals. The final topic returns to medicinal remedies made of a variety of Tibetan medicinal herbs, mercury, camphor, cowrie shells and more. This time, however, these are not aphrodisiacs per se, but rather substances meant to help the meditator retain his semen (thig le ’dzin) if he lacks the ability to do so via visualization (dmigs pas bzung bar ma nus pa).Footnote 56 While semen retention is not a common concern of kāmaśāstra works, many South Asian tantric texts contain injunctions for the (male) meditator engaged in religious practice involving sexual union to refrain from losing semen and instead to absorb his female consort's fluids.
Sources for Mipam's kāmaśāstra treatise
Mipam's Treatise on Passion is the first extant Tibetan kāmaśāstra treatise, but it does have recognizable Tibetan-language antecedents.Footnote 57 In the work's colophon, Mipam alludes to these, identifying his sources as “treatises (Skt. śāstra, Tib. gzhung), Tantras (rgyud), and [tantric] commentaries (dgongs ’grel)”.Footnote 58 In particular, Mipam probably drew from a short work also called Treatise on Passion (’Dod pa'i bstan bcos), which is attributed to Surūpa (Tib. Gzugs bzang) and appears in the Tantra section of the “Translated Treatises” or Tengyur (bstan ’gyur) part of the Tibetan Buddhist canon.Footnote 59 Nothing is known about Surūpa, but the work is at least as old as the third Karmapa Ranjung Dorjé (Rang byung rdo rje, 1284–1339), who mentions it by title and author in his Tengyur catalogue.Footnote 60 It also appears in another Tengyur catalogue written by Butön Rinchendrup (Bu ston rin chen grub, 1290–1364) in the early fourteenth century.Footnote 61 This canonical Treatise on Passion commences with a description of the four female protagonists (Skt. nāyikā), as does Mipam's exposition. But unlike Mipam's text, the Tengyur text pairs these four with four male protagonists, including men known as the hare (ri bong), bull (khyu mchog), stallion (rta) and stag (dgo ba). From the Tengyur Treatise on Passion:
The Tengyur text offers some brief comments on remedies that allow “those who lack the capacity to generate passion” to “generate passion difficult to counteract” involving butter, heat and medicinal roots meant to be applied to the male sexual organ (rtags), though nowhere as detailed as the concoctions advocated by Mipam.Footnote 63 Like Mipam's later work, the Tengyur Treatise on Passion reproduces the doctrine of candrakalā that first appeared in later Indian kāmaśāstra works; in this case the text associates various erogenous zones of a woman's body with the waxing days of the lunar cycle beginning on the first day with the top of the head and moving successively downward to the feet and back up again in the waning days. This is the reverse of the system Mipam included in his Treatise, which follows later Indian kāmaśāstra works such as the Nāgarasarvasva by beginning at the foot and moving successively to the top of the head during the 15 days of the waxing moon. However, in other instances Mipam appears to be drawing quite directly on the Tengyur Treatise on Passion, such as in his description of the constellations under which intercourse is prohibited.Footnote 64
Mipam's Treatise on Passion indicates familiarity with the older Tengyur work, but a comparison of the two Tibetan Treatises reveals significant differences between them, indicating that Mipam had additional sources on kāmaśāstra beyond that of the Tengyur work. Not only does Mipam's work not associate the four types of yoginīs with a corresponding typology of four types of men, but it also lacks the fourfold typology of women found in the Tengyur Treatise that divides them according to their medical constitution: harmonic (lhan cig skyes pa); phlegmatic (bad kan can); pneumatic (rlung can); and choleric (mkhris pa can). Also in the Tengyur but missing in Mipam is a fourfold typology of coital positions appropriate for each of the four types of women. Whereas the Tengyur Treatise contains two recipes for fertility and healthy childbirth, which had became an increasing preoccupation of later Indic kāmaśāstra works, Mipam makes no mention of procreation, perhaps indicating its lack of relevance for his objectives.Footnote 65 Other common topics of Sanskrit kāmaśāstra discourse are conspicuously absent from both the Tengyur Treatise and Mipam's – courting virgins, choosing wives, adultery, and courtesans – suggesting that these topics also had little applicability for the Tibetan contexts of kāmaśāstra, which were largely monastic. More than these points, however, the “smoking gun” indicating that the Tengyur Treatise was not Mipam's main or only kāmaśāstra source is its lack of any description of the 64 erotic arts, not to mention its general brevity (the dpe bsdur ma edition is only seven pages).
We can see quite clearly, however, particularly in the latter section of his exposition describing sexual positions, that one of his tantric sources is the Caṇḍamahāroṣaṇa Tantra, which is a Highest Yoga Tantra (anuttarayogatantra) found in the “Translated Teachings” or Kangyur (bka’ ’gyur) part of the Tibetan Buddhist canon.Footnote 66 Mipam's Treatise on Passion draws from the sixth chapter of the Caṇḍamahāroṣaṇa Tantra on completion stage yoga (niṣpannayoga). Mipam paraphrases part of this chapter (6.160–80) in describing sitting postures including the bodhisattva cross-legged position (sems dpa'i skyil krung) in which the right leg is on top, the female bodhisattva position (sems ma'i skyil krung) in which the left leg is on top, the vajra seat (rdo rje'i gdan, i.e. full lotus position in which both ankles rest on the opposite thigh), the half moon (zla ba phyed pa) and bow seats (gzhu yi gdan).Footnote 67 Many of the other coital positions Mipam lists and briefly explains are nearly identical to those found in a preceding section of the same chapter of the Caṇḍamahāroṣaṇa Tantra (6.80–121), including “the arising of bliss” (bde ba ’byung ba), moving the thighs (brla), ground-pressing (sa la mnan), many-talented one (ri mo can), the riding yogic posture (’phrul ’khor zhon pa), the tortoise embrace (rus sbal bcing ba), and in every way auspicious (kun tu bzang po).Footnote 68 Mipam's list of 25 positions contains 12 that do not appear in the sixth chapter of the Caṇḍamahāroṣaṇa Tantra, again indicating that he used an amalgamation of sources in formulating his Treatise on Passion. Also noteworthy are the many antinomian parts of the Caṇḍamahāroṣaṇa Tantra that Mipam chose not to include in his Treatise, such as the Tantra’s prescriptions for worshipping women and engaging in incestuous liaisons. Nevertheless, it is clear that Mipam's Treatise on Passion derives in part from tantric sources.
Mipam's somewhat awkward juxtaposition of śāstric and tantric sources seems to mix apples and oranges in the sense that Mipam's work extracts kāmaśāstra material from its larger “kāma world”, to borrow Daud Ali's term for the larger aesthetic, ethical, and cosmopolitan concerns of the Indian courtly elite that frame kāmaśāstra works.Footnote 69 Mipam applies technologies drawn from this world of sensual pleasure to the tantric aims of transforming passion into bliss that catalyses spiritual liberation. That this aim was previously absent from the domain of kāmaśāstra is clear in the opening of Vātsyāyana's Kāmasūtra (1: 1) in which he invokes the “three aims of human life” (trivarga), namely religion (dharma), power (artha) and pleasure (kāma). Conspicuously missing from this trinity is liberation (mokṣa), which elsewhere appears as a fourth aim and accords more closely with Mipam's objectives.Footnote 70 Nevertheless, even as dissonant as Mipam's inclusion of kāmaśāstra in his oeuvre of Buddhist monastic scholarship first seems to be, this interplay between courtly kāmaśāstric discourses on sensual pleasure featuring the “man about town” (nāgaraka) and esoteric tantric discourses on transforming passion into liberation featuring the yogi predates their Tibetan importation. Second millennium Sanskrit kāmaśāstra works such as the Nāgarasarvasva by Padmaśrī, who was himself a Buddhist, incorporated new conceptions of the body into their “kāma world”. These were drawn in part from tantric sources dealing with such topics as the complex physiological and spiritual network of channels that circulate pleasure throughout the body and form the basis for Tibetan tantric “channel and wind” (rtsa rlung) practices. Additionally, the expanded appearances of mantras, seed syllable visualizations, and coded language (saṅketa) drawn from Tantric Buddhist sources such as the Hevajra Tantra characterize these later kāmaśāstra works.Footnote 71
The flow of influence between kāmaśāstric and tantric works in medieval India appears to have travelled both ways, for not only do we find tantric technologies adapted for secular objectives of refining sensual pleasure, but we find Indian Buddhist Tantras co-opting techniques for arousing bliss borrowed from the domain of kāmaśāstra. We have already seen that the Caṇḍamahāroṣaṇa Tantra lists coital positions in a way similar to the lists found in kāmaśāstra works, though the specific positions in the Tantra do not seem to have a direct kāmaśāstra source.Footnote 72 Other Indian Buddhist Tantras advocate mastery of kāmaśāstra as a means of arousing bliss necessary for religious practice; in the Kālacakra Tantra’s third chapter on initiation, for example, the Tantra and its Vimalaprabhā commentary advise the yogi to know kāmaśāstra in order to worship the yoginīs properly.Footnote 73 Perhaps not incidentally, Mipam was one of the few adherents of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism who wrote extensively on tantric texts affiliated with the new (gsar ma) schools, particularly the Kālacakra, which he held to be supreme among them.Footnote 74
With this cursory introduction to Mipam's work and some of its sources, we are now ready to consider more broadly the question of why Mipam wrote a Treatise on Passion. Mipam's Treatise directs us to one way to answer this question according to Tantric Buddhist soteriology, for in his words, “without passion there is no complete liberation”.Footnote 75 In the final lines of his Treatise before the colophon, Mipam exhorts his readers to seek instructions from a qualified lama, elaborating that:
In the colophon as well, Mipam reiterates his intention to write the Treatise “for the sake of clarifying the minds of those practising the teachings of the Mantra lineage [i.e. Vajrayāna]”.Footnote 77 Mipam's emphasis on the importance of using passion on the path accords with his presentation elsewhere of the compatibility of different Nyingma contemplative systems, including Mahāyoga, which requires “channel and wind” practices such as those referenced here, and the Great Perfection (rdzogs chen), which does not. For Mipam, understanding how to use passion on the path was crucial because of its necessity for realizing the fundamental mind of clear light.Footnote 78
Nevertheless, even if there is soteriological benefit for arousing passion according to Vajrayāna Buddhism, the question still remains: why do we find the first extant Tibetan kāmaśāstra treatise only in late nineteenth-century eastern Tibet, when most of its sources predate this period by several centuries? One possible answer may be found in Mipam's position as one of the leading rimé (ris med) exemplars. Rimé is often translated as the “ecumenical movement” or the “non-sectarian movement”, though recent scholarship has contested its coherence as a social or religious movement and instead understood it as an unbiased outlook that can be discerned broadly among Tibetan religious masters.Footnote 79 This outlook is associated in particular with a cohort of nineteenth-century religious masters including Mipam and several of his teachers, namely Jamgön Kongtrül, Jamyang Khyentsé Wangpo, and Patrül, among others. Being unbiased in the sense of rimé did not mean propounding a mélange of doctrinal positions, or holding distinct sectarian views as equally valid, for Mipam and his teachers clearly advocated for their own lineage's doctrinal interpretations. Rather, their unbiased attitude was characterized by expansive education in the commentarial traditions of diverse Tibetan Buddhist lineages as well as a turn away from the rote memorization of Tibetan scholastic manuals (yig cha) used in monastic curricula. Instead, rimé exemplars advocated returning monastic education to the study of classical Indian Buddhist śāstras in Tibetan translation along with explanatory scriptural expositions (bshad pa).Footnote 80 Perhaps Mipam's endeavour to revive the kāma enshrined in kāmaśāstra and place it in the service of Tantric Buddhist liberation can be understood as a part of the “back to Indian śāstras” impetus at the heart of the nineteenth-century nonbiased outlook.
And finally, a common refrain among disciples and scholars of Mipam that we might co-opt as an explanation for his kāmaśāstra contribution is that Mipam wrote on everything, and for that reason was widely referred to as “omniscient” (kun mkhyen). So why not this bona fide subject of Sanskrit śāstras also? His encyclopaedic oeuvre covered a vast range, by no means limited to the religious sphere. Mipam's bibliographer catalogued his works into four parts: 1) narratives and eulogies; 2) ordinary arts; 3) Buddhism; and 4) dedications, auspicious verses, and prayers. Mipam's bibliographer placed his Treatise on Passion in the second part on “ordinary arts”. These include four main subsections (linguistics, epistemology, material arts, and healing) and four subsidiary subsections (poetics, astrological divination, counsel, and miscellany). Specifically, Mipam's Treatise is listed in the “poetics” (snyan ngag) section, after his commentary on Daṇḍin's Mirror of Poetry and a collection of his correspondence and before two works on music.Footnote 81 According to his bibliographer, then, even though Mipam's kāmaśāstra verses may have had some utility for yogis, they were at heart invocations of non-religious Indic literary arts.
That Mipam's Treatise on Passion pertained to both Buddhist soteriology and non-religious literary arts need not be understood as a contradiction. After all, to quote Doniger and Kakar, “extreme realms of sensuality and the control of sensuality have much in common”.Footnote 82 Indeed, the intertextuality of secular technologies of cultivating passion and religious technologies of transmuting it into liberation in second millennium kāmaśāstric and tantric works underscores this. That Mipam inherited this intertextuality is evident in his dual explanations of his authorial intentions, for he writes that he composed his Treatise on Passion:
He reiterates this twofold secular and religious scope in advocating for the superiority of his Treatise, for it “possesses the flavour of all the joy on earth and / the treasury of yogic accomplishment”.Footnote 84
Is it our own bias, then, if we are surprised to find sexual passion included among this polymath monastic scholars’ myriad forms of knowledge expertise? If it is, we are not alone, for Mipam anticipated adverse reactions to his Treatise on Passion, observing that “inhabitants of the Snow Land are entrapped by the snare of doubt”.Footnote 85 In response, Mipam admonished:
This article is an attempt to avoid such a pitfall by investigating Mipam's contribution to the still largely uncharted history of sexuality in Tibet. While much more remains to be explored, an analysis of Mipam's Treatise on Passion reveals that even though Gendün Chöpel brought aesthetic (and experiential?) prowess into the Tibetan literary domain with his famous twentieth-century work on erotics, Mipam and his predecessors had already set the stage for combining the secular science of sensual pleasure with the religious goal of spiritual liberation.